I Dare You Salad

“Most people will never know what that tastes like raw” Christina commented over my shoulder as I sliced through the side of a patty pan squash.
“What do you mean? They are good raw!” I replied, defensively.
“I know that” She said, stealing a slice of squash from under my knife and popping it into her mouth “but a lot of people don’t”.

Christina puts things into perspective for me. I forget how strange and intimidating vegetables can be when they are unfamiliar. They trigger a primal fear, and I forget that as animals we are meant to be wary of new foods lest we poison ourselves on unfamiliar berries. Eating new foods requires a sense of adventure. Like kids, we need our friends to dare us, and double dare us, and triple dog dare us to laugh down our fears and boldly walk down the dark path of the unknown.

A flash of lightning blazed up the rain streaked windows. The water trailed down in perfectly chiseled lines and it looked as though the windows had been sliced with a knife. I stood in the kitchen, laughing maniacally as a slice celery greens and patty pan squash, and mixed up a witches brew of plum vinegar dressing. I dare you to try it.

I Dare You Salad
3 small patty pan squash, cut into small pieces
4 long thin carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium cucumber, extremely fresh so that it snaps
1/4 cup celery greens

Creamy Plum Vinegar Dressing:
3/4 cup yogurt
3 cloves spicy garlic
1 umeboshi plum, mashed (these are a type of salty, preserved plums which can be found at the asian grocery store)
1/2 tsp ume plum vinegar
lots of black pepper

Christina’s vote: “Ha ha, ate it all!”

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Breakfast Bacon Potato Salad

I woke up, still lost in a dream and floating in a rainstorm of sizzling bacon. Thick steam weighed down the air like a jungle thunderstorm, and the sound of popping grease was similar to water bouncing off of rocks and leaves. The smell was like a warm wool sweater, comforting, nurturing, delicious.

I sat in my confusion while sensation returned to my fingers and toes, and I became aware of the light weight of the blankets on top of me. They were scratchy, and the comforter was machine stitched and thin, like a hotel bed cover. This was not my bedroom. Whose was it?

The carpet on the floor was light tan and shaggy, and covered in stains that were made by some other child. The walls were dark wood, with knots that could be mistaken for shapes which gnashed their teeth like wolves, or formed pointy hats like gnomes. There was an old cartoon map of a ski mountain hanging on the wall. I focused on the drawing for awhile, and then slowly added together the pieces.

I was a kid, on vacation, in Vermont.

Most likely the sound I was hearing was not a jungle rainstorm, as the window emitted a frozen blue glow in the early morning light. I pulled on my long winter ski socks, which hugged my calves tightly and forced my little legs into sticks. Then I shuffled into the breakfast room, where the entire family was already busy developing pink cheeks and full round bellies.

“There you are!” my mother said “we have been calling you for an hour.”
“um.. was it..raining a minute ago?” The entire family looked at me as though I were crazy.
“no, it is below freeing outside. Are you feeling okay?” “Just checking!” I said, as I dragged a strip of bacon onto a plate and sat down to breakfast.

Breakfast Bacon Potato Salad
Cube 3 medium Yukon gold potatoes (leave the skins on) and add them to a pot of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until tender.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil and blanch broccoli (cook until bright green, then plunge in cold water)

Cook bacon in the microwave, between paper towels

In a salad bowl, mix together 1 small, diced, yellow onion, 1/4 cup cubed cheddar cheese, the bacon (crumbled)

When the potatoes are tender, drain them and mix together with drained broccoli. Heat 4 Tbsp grape seed or olive oil. Turn off the heat and add 2 cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt. Add 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar and pour over the potatoes. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

Christina’s vote: “Puts grandma’s potato salad to shame. sorry grandma.”

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Try Tatsoi Salad

I like to think of myself as being pretty well versed in vegetables, particularly in the members of the brassica family. One of the more of the brassicas, broccoli, was my favorite vegetable as a child. My mother would steam it until it was bright forest green and then serve it to me with a little dollop of mayonnaise. My brother, who is one year my senior, didn’t want anything to do with the texture of mayonnaise, and would prefer starvation over having to taste anything that wasn’t white, brown, or orange. He would recoil in horror at the display of green and white that I would excitedly shovel onto my fork.

The praise that I earned for eating my vegetables was encouraging, but it was not my sole reason for getting excited about them. I know this because I would often trade foods with my brother when my parents weren’t looking, sliding my chicken breast onto his plate and taking his asparagus or cauliflower. When it came to broccoli, I almost always favored those bright green little trees over everything else on my plate.

Like many young people, my mind was opened to new experiences in college, the more appropriate of which can be discussed in this blog and includes a long list of brassica vegetables. I prided myself on my familiarity with some of the more obscure varieties, and would smile inwardly when I had the opportunity to introduce someone to something new. When, at the farmers market, I wandered by a booth and noticed a shiny little bunch of unfamiliar leaves sitting decoratively in little metal tubs in a section market ‘brassica’, I took notice.

“umm..what’s this?” I asked out of the side of my mouth, pretending to convey embarrassment.
“That’s tatsoi, you have never had it before?” the vendor asked.
“I knew that” I said, in the tone of an eight year old, “I just wanted to see if you knew” the vendor laughed. “It’s kind of a buttery, peppery, type green, with a spinach-like texture.” My mind conjured up flavors of spinach, which I often to find to be boring, and I slowly began to back away.
“it’s kind of like arugula” she added, and I snapped forward like a yo yo and dug out a dollar from my bag. “Sold!” I said, snatching up the tatsoi and handing her the dollar.

The flavor of tatsoi is just as the vendor described. It is grassy and mild, with a buttery texture and a black peppery finish. It has less of a bite than arugula, and a more smooth mouth feel. Delicious!

Try Tatsoi Salad
1 small bunch tatsoi
3 small fresh carrots, sliced
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small heirloom red tomato, sliced into wedges
1 small heirloom yellow, sliced into wedges

Dress with:
3 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp dark honey
grated fresh ginger (if you have it around, I didn’t have any when I made this, but I imagine it would fit well)

Christina’s vote: “This salad made me want to yell at the cheese curd vendors ‘what is wrong with you people!'”

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Saturday Cooks Salad

The breeze was stiff, and cleared the air of humidity. It blew in across the table where I stood in front of Mr. Kelley of ‘Mrs. Kelly’s teas’, and like smelling salts for the spirit, it brought my senses to life.

Mr Kelley noticed it too, and in mid-sentence he leaned in and lowered his voice to a whisper
“it couldn’t be a more beautiful day could it?” he stated. I smiled and breathed in the air, reminded of the days when I practically lived every moment exposed to the wind.
“Yeah” I replied, noticing how the crisp blue sky sparkled off of everyone’s eyes, “it is beautiful”.

I continued on to the demo tent, and discovered that today’s chef had already arrived. Bill Roehl, aka the Minnesota pepper king, was sitting at one of the square, black, metal, four-top tables. He had a notebook in hand and a Grateful Dead patch on his hat. He had dark brown eyes and a trim beard, and looked like the sort of person who might have at one time been a shaggier, more dreadlocked version of his former self. Currently, he is a family man with a carrier type job at a University, and a blog where he reports on happenings in local politics. He is a fellow east coaster, and we spent our first few moments chatting about possible connections we might have back in our home towns.

I shopped with Bill, making sure to introduce him to the vendors that might have the ingredients he would be interested in. I almost felt guilty about how much time I was spending chatting with him and the vendors about food, but as my boss walked by she bestowed an encouraging grin, and I realized that what I was doing was actually a part of my job description.

I love my job at the market.

The pepper king was nervous, hence the early arrival, but his performance was exceptional. He had an Emeril like presence in front of the crowd. He pulled them in with the smells of garlic, Italian sausage, and the hazy heat of peppers sizzling. Then he kept them entertained with personal anecdotes and a glimmer of joy. I stood a little off to the right, tending to the contents of two giant frying pans as though I were spinning records. The frying pans were about half the size of me. I lifted them with both hands, tossing the contents into the air and catching them back in the pan. Cooking in front of an audience is exciting, it’s like playing a concert. The crowd and the chefs feed off of each other. Local chefs often come to watch these Saturday demos on the days when they are not presenting. The market seems culturally fertile, like a place where a culinary movement might sprout. In any case, we have fun with each other.

I made this salad with the chefs from today in mind.

Saturday Cooks Salad
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 ronde de Nice, diced raw
1/4 cup cubed provolone cheese (optional)
1 small bunch thyme

Dress with:
3 Tbsp hazelnut infused olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp tamari soy sauce
2 Tsp buckwheat honey (or dark brown honey)

Christina’s vote: “Incredulous”

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Fit Perspective Salad

My eyes were blurry, as though I were looking through Vaseline smeared lenses. I arrived at the lab at 5:30. Under the microscope of the lab’s stillness I became aware that the weeks worth of mild sleep deprivation was beginning to affect me, altering my state of consciousness. It took four hours for me to complete what should have been a two hour experiment. In frustration, I left the lab and went to stand by the window in hallway, too tired to be upset. I brought an apple a packet of peanut butter with me so that I could have some breakfast.

It was 9:30, and already I had accomplished a half a day’s worth of work. I looked out of the window. The lot was oddly sparse. I wondered if people were taking off work to go to the state fair, or maybe just to enjoy the final days of summer. With the promise of a warm weekend ahead, who could blame them?

When I looked back toward the corridor, a woman was walking briskly toward me, her gaze locked on me. I saw myself through her eyes: a tired, young looking woman with a long brown ponytail, eating peanut butter off of her fingers and wearing a long white lab coat. She looked at me as though she were going to say something, but she didn’t slow her pace as she approached. The wall dead ended behind me, and for a moment I thought that the woman was going to walk right into me, but she swiftly u-turned as though rounding an imaginary cone, and tossed me a cheerful “good morning” as she sped away.

That’s when I noticed that the woman had paired sneakers with her skirt suit, and that her calves were oddly muscular for her size. She was a power walker. I am not sure why, but I found the encounter oddly comforting. In a world where we are supposed to hate our jobs, look forward to retirement, and daydream about the weekend, it is nice to see people making themselves comfortable at work.

The woman made me realize that I had been making myself into a victim. I had begun sliding into a pattern of trying to fulfill imaginary expectations, and chase the illusion of an end which would justify all of these means. How easily I demonize the vulnerable ones who try to offer advice, inventing them as great punishers who are out to spoil my fun.

One day I will look back at all my battles and realize that I was alone in the ring, as both the champion and the opponent, sometimes winning sometimes losing, but always playing to the crowd.

Fit Perspective Salad
3 small peppers, fresh, diced
8 Heirloom cherry tomatoes mainly yellow and orange
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
2-3 cups frisee
4 diced green onions

Dress with:
2 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp grape seed oil
3/4 Tbsp raw honey
1/4 tsp ume plum vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves minced garlic

Christina’s vote: “A mighty taste”
Everett’s vote: “The freshest tasting salad I have had the pleasure of enjoying. Mmmm”

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A Worker Among Workers Salad

I walked slowly down the hallway, my eyes swollen and red from too many late nights and early mornings. Fitting in the time to assemble somewhat of a balanced life in grad school has presented a challenge in itself, and one that I am starting to actually enjoy.

At 5 am the world is all mine, and I run through the empty streets exploring familiar territory with new eyes. When the sky lifts its dark blue veil I am reminded that I share this planet with other people, people who have ideas about what I need to be doing and exactly what time I need to be doing it. Interacting with them is a game of when to assert and when to gracefully submit, when to lead and when to be led.

At 5 PM I stand on the top floor of the building where I work and watch as the people pour out like ants. Their badges swing from side to side and their shoulders sag under the weight of their shoulder bags. In the corridor on the way back to my apartment I am dropped back into my world as the dusk folds down.

I turn the handle and am flooded with music. Jesse is rocking vigorously back and forth, waving his arms in pure joy and smiling from ear to ear. Christina is standing in the living room assembling new desk chairs for us. She dances around, and I can’t tell if she is more excited about the project of assembling chairs or the fact that we now have them.

The cats are playing like crazy, due to the arrival of several large empty brown boxes. They dive from one box to the next, occasionally chasing each other onto one of the old desk chairs and sending it flying across the hard wood floors. They ride with pinned back ears and wide eyes, digging their claws into the leather and holding tight as though embarking on a sleigh ride. The office door has been left open and they chase each other back and forth across the entryway, celebrating the freedom to pass through the forbidden territory.

A cameo appearance from Catherine and Everett comes just as my hands are putting the finishing touches on today’s salad. I look down and notice that somehow I managed to make just enough food for all of us, and I wondered how my subconscious self knew that they would be coming. After salad there was tea, toast, and typing, and new comfy desk chairs. The cats were stretched long, and there was Jesse, slowly rocking back and forth, grinning from ear to ear.

A Worker Among Workers Salad
1 bulb fennel, shaved or sliced thin
8 small fresh carrots, sliced
1 small bunch spinach
1 small bunch basil
1 cup pepitas
2 small red heirloom tomatoes

Dress with:
4 Tbsp grape seed oil
2 Tbsp lime juice
3/4 Tbsp raw honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Christina’s vote: “This salad made me want to run up a tree”

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Worth the Trouble Salad

This is one of those salads where the flavor of the individual ingredients really matters. It is best made hungry, and after a long day at work. Make this salad when you think that you can’t handle just one more task, because you are absolutely right. One more task would put you over the edge. So in this case, you really need a change of perspective.

Start by forgiving yourself for any shortcomings in the performance you are about to give. In other words forget about the outcome. Don’t make any decisions, just open the fridge and look. Peer into the crisper and find the things you tucked away. Place a slice of zucchini on your tongue and let it pull moisture out of your salivary glands. Drink some basil through your nose. Feel the peppers to see if they are crisp. Now take one out and cut into it. Smell it. Taste it. Imagine it bathed in vinegar, slightly spiced, and with nutty undertones.

I couldn’t handle any more tasks today, so I allowed myself to get quiet and listened to my senses as they worked out this recipe.

Worth the Trouble Salad
Mix together 1 cup kashi, cooked according to instructions on box, then cooled.
1 small, fresh green pepper, diced (green peppers are technically unripe, much like green tomatoes. When they ripen they become red, orange, or yellow peppers)
1/2 small zucchini, cubed
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
8 cherry tomatoes, sliced and cut in half
1 small bunch mixed basil, chopped (I used cinnamon and fruity basil. I have no idea what variety they are specifically, but they smell fantastic).

Heat 3 Tbsp grape seed oil in a frying pan. Turn off the heat and add a pinch of salt and 3 cloves garlic minced. Stir in 1 tsp tarragon, 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, and 1/2 tsp soy sauce. Add a little black pepper. Allow to cool, then pour over the salad. Add some olive oil if it needs a richer texture or flavor.

Christina’s vote: “This salad made me want to know if June bugs fall in love”

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Spicy Steak and Gorgonzola Salad

Bob Ross painted a smear of titanium white across the pretty blue and pink brushed Minnesota sky, and then dotted the green trees with yellow to signify the beginning of autumn. This time of the year the suburban streets of the twin cities begin to take on a vermont like quality. Each box-shaped, shingled house embodies the charm of a little red barn. I imagined Bob Ross in his jumpsuit and afro rolling paint onto his palate knife and teaching with the high notes and hushed calm of a nursery school teacher. I turned my attention to the pavement ahead as the early morning traffic sporadically zoomed by.

The streets were a runway with neat rows of streetlamps reflecting off of glassy asphault, still wet from a midnight rain.It seemed that me eyes were not quiet done sleeping when I hauled them out of bed and forced them to help me find my running sneakers. Now they were resentfully swollen, and drooping shut, causing the gas stations, street lights, and coffee shops to blend into a streak of neon. I quickened my pace and laughed internally at my luck of having found such a positive way of relieving stress and seeking adventure.

The darkness lifted at about the time that the homeless people began their short walk from the night shelter to the day shelter. The same cast of characters have been walking this strip since I moved here in 2003. A one- toothed, old man stopped to deliver me a thumbs up and a wide smile as I went by. It was a small gesture of encouragement, but it ignited my spirit for the final mile home.

Spicy Steak and Gorgonzola Salad
Mix together:
1 bunch watercress (for the spice. My father always put horseradish on his steak, I find that watercress gives steak a similar kick)
1-2 cups frisee
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced
1/2 large zucchini, cubed
top with sliced pan seared strip steak, cut into strips(I marinated a strip steak in yogurt, garlic and rosemary before cooking on the stove top. Yogurt is an easy way to soften meat)

Dress with:
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grape seed oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp maple syrup
1-2 Tbsp gorgonzola cheese, mixed in well
chopped rosemary, salt, and ground black pepper to taste

Christina’s vote: “This salad made me want to darn an old shirt.”

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Simply Tropical Fantasy Salad

It’s 5:30 pm and I have been working for 12 hours.

It seems like years have passed in this one day.

The fluorescent lighting has cooked my outer layers and hardened me at the core.

I feel like a microwaved frozen-burrito, oddly tough and pasty on the outside and frozen in the middle.

A cup of coffee would melt my icy interior, but the Starbucks has long since closed and my gut has exceeded the capacity limit for burnt office blend.

The sun outside is like a model in a magazine, a voiceless, odorless, temperature-less, tease for the imagination.

I try to get pulled in by it, but the central air fights back hard, and soon I surrender to pitiful begging.

Please sunshine, don’t go home before I get out of here!

Simply Tropical Fantasy Salad
cube a local seedless watermelon into odd geometric shapes
sprinkle with lime zest and shredded coconut
sit back and enjoy!

Christina’s vote: “a vacation at home”

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Luncheon Tea Salad

The lemonade sat in a globe shaped pitcher propped upright in bowl of ice. It was accumulating a frosty dew as the guests arrived in twos and threes. They set down their bags and offered to help in the kitchen.

The chatter steadily rose to a voiceless chorus, where no individual could be singled out. Everyone was made comfortable by the hostesses impeccable charm, and cunning flattery. The little girl skipped through the hallway, abandoning her pretty patten leather shoes, and freeing her toes and heels from blistering torture. The smooth hard wood allowed her to slide into the kitchen where the caterer offered her an approving smile. She was sent back into the living room with a tray of tea sandwiches, a stack of napkins, and detailed instructions about the nature of the decadent treats on her tray. These are watercress, these are egg, and these are salmon and cucumber.

Luncheon Tea Salad
8 eggs, hard boiled (in a pot, cover eggs with water, bring to a boil over high heat, boil 1 min, remove from heat and allow to sit covered for 9 min)
8 celery heart stalks (the inside pieces which are white)
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
sirachi hot sauce (to taste)
lemon pepper (to taste)

Mix ingredients with a fork, mashing the eggs as you go. A note about eggs: older eggs are much easier to peel, but farm fresh eggs are fantastically delicious and worth the peeling hassle. You decide.

Slice 1 large fresh zucchini into rounds. Top with some spicy watercress in a clover pattern. Add a spoonful of egg salad to each one and serve!

Christina’s vote: “This salad made me want to correct Emily’s grammar.”

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